Friday, July 28, 2006

The AFT on ELLs

I'm also a little late getting to this, but I really like the new AFT resolution about teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). I have a lot of problems with how ELLs are taught at my school, and the resolution addresses some of them directly. My after-school program has a higher percentage of ELLs than the general school population (which makes sense), and this year I was able to see how isolated these kids are. The kids are around other ELLs all day, and have very little interaction with native English speakers. This can be good - for instance, a lot of the kids make friends with immigrants from a different part of the world, and have to speak English to communicate. But from what I've seen, their English grammar isn't improving as much as it could be. That's why I like this part of the resolution:

frequent teacher-led, structured opportunities for ELLs to discuss topics that are directly relevant to their lives and for them to interact in the classroom with native English speakers;

The first part of that is also important - I helped a lot of ELLs this year on project after project about famous people and events they had trouble relating to. Obviously, they need to learn a lot of general American history to catch up with their classmates, but every time I was to compare a historical event to something from their country, their eyes would light up and they seemed to really understand. I think it is important not to treat ELLs like they are so hopelessly behind that teachers can never explain things in the kids' native language or relate lessons to something from a student's home country. One of the ESL teachers at the school does a really good job working with her kids to individually explain the lessons, but it isn't the case throughout the school.

Finally, this part of the resolution really makes me happy"

prescreening and ongoing assessment programs that determine students’ levels of English language proficiency separate from students’ content knowledge and that have the appropriate tools to distinguish between lack of linguistic abilities in English and learning disabilities;

I posted a while ago about a Dominican kid who should be in special education but ended up in ESL (and didn't get the help he needed until a teacher that worked with us took it upon herself to give him extra help) because the test the kid took confused his learning disability with a lack of English ability. This happens because the evaluations of immigrant kids aren't good, and it's great the AFT is going to be pushing for better tests and assessments.


NYC Educator said...

I like your ideas, as well as the AFT's.

I've also had special ed. kids dumped in my ESL classes, notably several who were fluent in verbal English but utterly illiterate.

Actually. I don't even know that qualifies them as special ed.

Lady Strathconn said...

We only have about 2 ELLs at our school at anyone time and we have a part time ESL teacher. Due to fedral regulations our school district is offering a class in "teaching ELLs". I took it this year with several coworkers and was amazed at what i had never thought of in working with these kids (in the computer lab). I also spent much of the class substituting expression ELL with LD and realized there is a lot we, as teachers, don't learn about dealing with the "not-the-norm" kids.